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Kristen Pawlick: From Massage Therapy to Acupuncture to Global Volunteering

Kristen Pawlick is an energetic practitioner who has volunteered on many medical outreach missions with Global Healthcare Foundation since 2013.  She combines her skills in athletic training, manual therapy, and acupuncture to provide high quality treatments to people in need.  It has been a pleasure having her join our GHF practitioner team.  Read all about Kristen’s story with Global Healthworks Foundation below.


Kristen Pawlick: From Massage Therapy to Acupuncture to Global Volunteering

A few of years ago, Dan Wunderlich was teaching a contemporary medical acupuncture course at McMaster University when a bright, bubbly young woman caught his attention. “I noticed her skills in school. She picked up on things really quickly,” he says. After explaining his outreach work in Guatemala with Global Healthworks Foundation, Dan learned something else: she had “the heart,” a certain kindness and generosity he looks for in Foundation volunteers. “She showed a particular passion,” he says. “And she was relentless in pursuing the opportunity to join our team.”

Passionate is a word many use when speaking of Kristen Pawlick, a twenty seven-year-old Ontario native whose academic and medical backgrounds include athletic therapy, physical and occupational therapy, and acupuncture. Not lacking for energy, Kristen is a self-described “school addict” who first traveled to Quiché, Guatemala with Dan and his team in October 2013. During the biannual health jornadas, or medical missions, Global Healthworks Foundation offers acupuncture, Chinese herbal remedies, soft-tissue bodywork, Reiki, and rehabilitative movement exercises like yoga. “With the jornadas, I’m able to provide one-on-one medical attention,” Kristen says. “Many of them [the Guatemalan people] often don’t get that.” An all-volunteer, charitable organization, the Foundation seeks to provide quality healthcare services to underserved communities as well as opportunities for volunteers like Kristen to provide treatment outside of their normal practice. “I like to help people,” Kristen says. “That’s who I am and what I want to be. And I can be that here.”

In addition to working in the jornadas, in 2013, Dan asked Kristen to help him launch the Foundation’s weekly mobile health clinics. Unexpectedly, the local program manager and acupuncturist fell ill on the first day and could not participate. “I was kind of thrown in,” Kristen says of the experience. “It was kind of crazy. But it was a good kind of crazy.” Dan explains Kristen’s role a bit differently. “Even though it was her first trip, she was a superstar,” he says of her help in piloting the program and treating patients. “She proved herself more than I ever expected.”

Despite working primarily as an acupuncture provider on the jornadas, Kristen continues to utilize her skills in manual therapy, which treats musculoskeletal pain and disability through the manipulation of muscles and joint mobilization. Combined with her multifaceted background, her lighthearted nature puts patients at ease and, often, makes them laugh—particularly when she attempts Spanish. “Tú practicas ejercicio dos veces el día (You [need to] practice exercise two times [during] the day),” she says to an elderly man at the October 2014 jornada. “Más fuerte. (Stronger.)” She flexes both her arms in the air and lets out a small grunt. The man chuckles and nods. “Trata bien a los pacientes (She treats the patients well),” says Isabel Toma Zacarias, Kristen’s interpreter. “Siempre busca una manera de relacionarse y conectarse con los pacientes. (She always looks for a way to relate to and connect with the patients.)”

Though an energetic person who says she has trouble “sitting still and doing nothing,” Kristen embodies a sense of calm while treating. “Se ve muy tranquila (She looks very relaxed),” Isabel explains. “Pero se enfoca mucho en su trabajo. (But she focuses a lot on her work.)” That focus is one of the reasons Dan continues to invite her to participate in the jornadas and assist with the mobile clinics. In May 2014, when the clinic manager went on vacation, Kristen returned to Quiché to act as the primary clinician. “Fue muy amable con los pacientes y con buena energía (She was very friendly with the patients and had good energy),” explains Juan José Mejía, who assists at the clinics and jornadas. “Las personas se sienten cómodas y muy satisfechas con su trabajo. (People feel comfortable and very satisfied with her work).”

Yet, Kristen believes, there is always room for growth. Despite seven years of higher education already, she says she will likely return to school at some point in the future. One of the reasons she keeps coming back to Guatemala is because of her love of learning. “I treat in a paradigm of Western-based medicine,” she says, “but I’m trying to learn more of the Eastern medicine practices. I’ve been able to do that here.”


“Her determination to learn and integrate additional Eastern medicine practices will help her patients wherever she treats.”


Combined with her diverse medical background, generosity, and seemingly endless energy, it is this drive to learn that enables her to provide quality care and continue to improve as a massage and acupuncture practitioner—both in Guatemala and back home in Canada. “Her determination to learn and integrate additional Eastern medicine practices will help her patients wherever she treats,” Dan says. “She has a bright future ahead of her, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”